Overview of project:

Dental Ambassadors is training programme for adults with learning disabilities which has been delivered across Devon and Cornwall since 2014.
It started life as a dental student community engagement project [2013] and has been further developed by Well Connected and delivered in the community in a variety of settings.
The programme delivers training for adults with learning disabilities to provide them with the knowledge of key oral health messages to share with others in workplaces, special schools, advocacy groups etc. This could be via presentations, workshops, displays etc.
Training takes place over 4-6 weeks depending upon the requirements of the organisation and is delivered by an oral health educator and community engagement officer.
Once the training has been completed the Dental Ambassadors then share their knowledge with their peers in the work place, school or college as well as with other local disability organisations and also at home with parents and siblings,

How was the need for this project identified?

There are estimated to be 1 million adults registered with a disability in the UK with only a small proportion (around 20%) known to disability services. While high quality treatment services are available in the UK, there is a lack of specific resource for community-based oral health improvement. Working in partnership and developing a person centred approach to delivering health based initiatives has far reaching impacts for communities, organisations and individuals
This peer approach to delivering key oral messages is an effective and meaningful way to deliver health education and prevention messages.

Please give an overview of the project’s benefits, and the aspects of public health it addresses.

The Dental Ambassador programme delivers a sustainable peer led project for adults and young people with learning disabilities which empowers them to share information with others; for example, at home with parents and siblings, in the work place, in school or college as well as with other local disability organisations.

Oral health is an important part of general health and impacts on a sense of well-being, ability to enjoy a range of foods as well as increasing confidence and self-esteem.

Poor oral health has many negative effects, for example;

  •   pain and discomfort
  •   disturbed sleep for families and individuals
  •   increase absences from school, college and work
  •   increased amounts of medication
  •   hospital admission to have teeth removed under general anaesthetic.

As a result of the training it is reported that participants feel more confident, feel more independent, as well as making healthier food/drink choices.
A range of resources have been developed to use with these groups including story boards, games, handouts and activity sheets.

What was the biggest challenge faced by your project? How was this overcome?

There were no particular challenges however appropriate funding is required to continue to develop the programme for other groups.

What advice would you give to a team managing a similar project?

Meaningful partnership working is essential; creating opportunities to work together provides an added value for all agencies and results in a bigger impact for people and organisations.

What’s next for this project?

We have developed a ‘wrap round’ project approach which encompasses the dental ambassadors training, diet and nutrition workshop and working with the organisations to consider food/drink policies, safe snacks and including oral health into other themes and activities.
We are currently delivering at a college for young people with autism and would like to continue and expand the reach and impact of the project to other areas/agencies.
Highlighting and promoting the programme is key; we would relish the opportunity to publicise more widely.

Have you had any feedback (e.g. from colleagues, third-sector partners, members of the public)?

We have lots of positive feedback, which relates particularly to the increased knowledge and confidence of participants.
Partner organisations report a high level of satisfaction with the training.
Dental Ambassadors has been showcased at dental conferences in the UK, Hungry and USA.

This YouTube video was made by Cornwall based Dental Ambassadors a couple of years ago. They wrote their own dental rap which was been recorded at a local music studio. This gives an insight into the impact of the Dental Ambassador training; and demonstrates the fun and enjoyment.

Which aspect of this project makes you most proud?

The positive impact for all the participants;

  •  increase in confidence/knowledge/awareness
  •  change in pre-existing medical conditions, one participant lost approximately 2 stones in weight, another stopped drinking energy drinks
  •  delivering something which is so meaningful and impactful yet simple in its approach and delivery

How can your public health colleagues get more information about this project?

We can share posters and abstracts, you can also check the Well Connected website for more information.

Is there anything else about this project you would like to share with your colleagues across SW?

We would be very happy to discuss in more detail and share the good practice whilst also exploring the opportunity to work with other agencies and organisations who support people and families with learning disabilities.